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Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Motherlode by Carolyne Van Der Meer

Book Review Rating  ♥♥

The author’s reasons for writing the book are understandable and admirable. At the centre of the book is a great idea waiting to be written. But this is not that book. I’m afraid to say that the writing of the book is poorly executed.
I hate to write anything bad about a laudable attempt to write a book on the subject of her families’ experiences during the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War. However, I always believe in writing an honest review.
I will start with the poetry. It is of a freeform style that is both turgid and generic. It adds nothing to the book’s worth. In fact it is a distraction from the stories told within the book.
The stories are rather leaden, clichéd and are in need of a good editor. The book is grammatically and artistically poor as is the book’s style of writing. The use of language, analogies and phraseology is at times puzzling and unwieldy.
When the author writes of her mother’s memories of the war she states that, “these are terrifying memories…she (the author’s mother) has blocked them out. However, within the same paragraph the author describes the above as “like the sting of pulling off a well stuck band Aid”.
Later when the writer is talking to her mother on the phone she writes, “And I hear a smile come down the line”. How does one ‘hear’ a smile? Don’t get me started on the author’s misuse of conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence that are scattered through the book.
The author also strangely misuses phrases that result in a sentence making no sense, “It’s like you’re in a vacuum, the time –space continuum interrupted, a chunk that’s forever out of reach. The time-space continuum is a mathematical model. It is the joining of three dimensional space with one dimensional time.
The author then mentions on the next page when talking of “travelling is lonely. Like you’ve lost the connection with what you know and love” that “There’s no frame of reference”. But of course there is a frame of reference. I’m sure the author has travelled before or been lonely before or felt lost before etc. All these would be within her ‘frame of reference’.
Apart from the misuse and inaccurate use of the above terms (and there are many more) the main problem is that they act as a distraction. The incongruous phrases also devalue the aesthetic quality of the story.
Sadly, there are many problems with the book and these also include inaccurate information. Firstly, the author states that her mother as a little girl talks to an ordinary German Soldier dressed in black. Lower ranked army German soldiers dressed in a greenish-grey uniform. The author also has her Dutch antecedents referring to the Germans as ‘Jerries’. This was a slang term for the Germans used by the British. The people of the Netherlands would have referred to the Germans as either ‘Mofs’ or Poeps’.
I was also surprised by the lack of planning the author made when visiting the Netherlands as research for her book. She writes as if she simply wandered around aimlessly with no planned itinerary. For example, she writes, “(I) stumble upon the Netherlands Institute for War.” Surely as a journalist visiting the country she is planning to write about should have a planned itinerary rather than just ‘stumbling’ around.

There is a seed of an interesting story buried within the book but has been halted from growing into a fully formed mature idea by poor, stiff, awkward writing.

Number of Pages - 110
Sex Scenes - None
Profanity - None
Genre - Biographical 

This review was based on an advanced copy via

Saturday, 5 October 2013

In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame

Book Review Rating ♥♥♥♥

This is the posthumous publication of a book written forty years ago in 1973. Janet Frame did not allow publication of this roman a clef novel as she was worried that the people of the city Menton in France, where the book is set, may have recognized themselves and taken offence.
Like Janet Frame, the novel’s protagonist Harry Gill, is awarded a fellowship. The fellowship, Janet’s and Harrys, allows them to live and work for six months in the city of Menton on the Cote d’Azur. While Janet received the KatherineMansfield fellowship, Harry is awarded the fictitious Margaret Rose Hurndell fellowship.
In this epistolary novel Harry Gill is a self loathing, self-pitying psychosomatic novelist. He has written two historical novels which have been fairly well received but Harry now wants to write something completely different in an attempt to be taken more seriously. He is attempting to write a picaresque novel which is in complete contrast to how he perceives himself;

“dull personality, almost humdrum, a plodder from day to day”

In the Memorial Room has no conventional plot line. Much of the novel is a stream of consciousness and as such could be seen by many as a difficult read. But this is not a negative criticism. Why should all novels be as dumb, asinine and empty as the Fifty Shades series of books? Janet Frame’s novel will stay in the memory long after Fifty Shades has receded to that dark space at the back of the memory’s filing cabinet.
Her novel is a beautiful, rich, dark essay on the human psyche. It opens the curtain of our minds to shed light on the human fear of being invisible, of no longer being noticed or having our opinions matter. Being forgotten by a society that takes no interest in a person once they have hit old age. 
Writers too become invisible. A writer is only visible when being read. When people stop reading a writer’s work then the author becomes invisible, they cease to exist.
Many of Menton’s inhabitants that Harry Gill encounters are elderly and on finding themselves invisible have utilised the death and memory of the writer Margaret Rose Hurndell to make themselves visible again. This is especially true of the Margaret Rose Hurndell fellowship’s principal donors Connie Watercress and Grace Armstrong who having been denied fame in their own career now bask in the reflected light and glory of Rose Hurndell’s fame.
Harry believes that his sight is degenerating to the point where he will be completely blind within five years. Harry begins to suffer debilitating headaches and so visits Dr Rumor in the city of Menton. Dr Rumor disagrees with Harry’s doctor on his diagnosis of his oncoming blindness. Dr Rumor explains that Harry “is trying to make (himself) invisible, on the childlike theory that if you can’t see, then you can’t be seen.”
The title of the book refers to the room in Menton where Harry is expected to write in. The memorial room lies beneath departed Ms Hurndell’s residence Isola Bella. It is a stone tomb like room which has no toilet or running water and little light or warmth,

“I thought, had Rose Hurndell been buried here and not in London.”

This brings us to The Memorial Room’s other main theme, one of being buried alive: buried in the shrouds of old age, illness or retirement. As these three events occur, many people dig their own graves by allowing these events to define who they are and wallowing in the preconceived injustice of it all. Using that feeling of injustice as a spade people tend to dig deeper and deeper into a permanent black hole.
Like so many of Frame’s novels, In the Memorial Room has an autobiographical undertow. Both Harry Gill and Janet Frame craved both fame and anonymity. Both wanted to communicate with the world but not in any conventional way.  Both feel alone in the world and but have people looking to seek their company.
                This novel will halt any chance of Janet Frame becoming invisible and hopefully will result in her being an angel at all our reading tables.   

Number of Pages - 212
Sex Scenes - None 
Profanity - None
Genre - Drama/Autobiographical

          This is a review of an an advanced copy supplied by the publishers through

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The King's Grave: The Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones.

Book Review Rating ♥♥♥♥

The finding of Richard III’s skeleton in a Leicester car park made news around the world. The story of the find created a huge amount of column inches in the British newspapers for many months. This is not surprising as Richard III is not only a fascinating historical figure made famous by Shakespeare, but he was also the last King of England to die in battle, the last of King of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty.
This book is a book of two halves. The chapters alternate between the hunt for Richard’s burial site in Leicester (written by Philippa Langley) and Richard’s life from his birth at Forthinghay Castle to his death at Bosworth Field, (written by Michael Jones).
Philippa Langley is a member of the Richard III Society and a screenwriter while Michael Jones, a friend of Ms Langley, is a historian and author. Together they have created a captivating book that though its style will not please many historians, I believe that armchair historians and those with a fascination for all things Richard III will thoroughly enjoy the book.
The book is written in a fluid, straight forward no nonsense style. Ms Langley’s screen-writing credentials shine through in the book’s writing style although this may unintentionally divide its readers. Ms Langley’s writing is at times florid. She tries to instil a sense of filmic drama with the occasional ‘cliff-hanger’ scene thrown in. On her way to Leicester on the first day of the archaeological dig she misses her connection to Sheffield. Will she still get there in time for the midday meetings? On the same journey she has received no texts or calls about the dig even though information had been sent to the media outlets the day before,

“No calls or texts from the media…Perhaps in the 527 years since Richard’s death…the world has turned too many times and there’s no interest in the search for his grave.”

As we read on, the pseudo drama and tension builds until finally, of course, her phone begins to ring. Rightly or wrongly there are times where one does wonder if these events happened as written or as can occur in screenplays based on a true story, dramatic license is used.
There are also times when the screenwriter has to go off on her own to walk the streets of Leicester or to sit alone in a café or by a fountain pondering the ramifications of finding Richard’s grave. When reading of these moments you can almost hear the likes of the Lighthouse Family or a George Michael ballad playing over these ‘poignant’ moments.
I can forgive Ms Langley’s use of this particular style of writing as I believe it does help to make the story of the dig more accessible. It will also make the subject less daunting and dry to those who would not normally read a book based on a historical figure or even one about archaeology. Making history and archaeology more accessible can never be a bad thing.
What I find harder to forgive is the intrusion of Ms Langley’s ego into the whole affair. I lost count of the number of times Philippa Langley’s ‘intuition’, at where Richard was buried, is mentioned throughout the book.  She continually reminds the reader that she had a psychic or instinctual feeling when she walked over the car park area some three years before the dig and knew from that moment that she had found Richard’s burial site. What put any doubts she had to rest was the large letter ‘R’ marked on the ground. (The ‘R’ referred to a reserved parking place). When the bones are found she turns to Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist of the University of Leicester Archaeologist Services (ULAS),  and says “You do know where the bones have been found”.
She also writes,

“I tell myself I have to go with what feels right what my instinct is telling me. That has been the story of this project from the start and I’m not going to stop now”.

Though Philippa Langley certainly does acknowledge and credit the help she obtained from such people as Dr John Ashdown-Hill (historian who tracked Mr Ibsen ten years previously and without whose research there would have been no search for the Plantagenet King), and Annette Carson a writer and member of the Richard III Society, it does feel at times that they are simply bit players in the leading lady’s script.
However, if one can put all that aside and I did, the book is a superb read with never a dull moment and if hunger had not interrupted my reading I would never have put the book down.

Philippa Langley and Michael Jones book is a resounding success and it would not surprise this reviewer if this book manages to coax the younger generation to get interested in the history of Great Britain. And one can’t say fairer than that.

Number of Pages - 320
Sex Scenes - None
Profanity - None
Genre - Historical

This is a review of an an advanced copy supplied by the publishers through